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Judge rejects self-defense motion for Daniel Roberts, the Dawson County man accused in a teen’s 2021 death
Senior Judge David Emerson
Senior Judge David Emerson, center, listens as one of Daniel Roberts’ lawyers, John Luke Weaver, speaks during an Oct. 31 motions hearing. - photo by Rio White

The man accused in 19-year-old Kaleb Duckworth’s 2021 death will not be immune from prosecution, according to a document filed in Dawson County Superior Court.

This story continues below.

After an Oct. 31 hearing that lasted several hours, Senior Judge David Emerson issued a Nov. 1 order denying an immunity or self-defense motion in the pending criminal case for Dawson County 21-year-old Daniel Lee Roberts.

Emerson, who previously served as the chief judge in Douglas County, was appointed to preside over Roberts’ 2021 case in June. 

Additionally, the senior judge deferred a decision on Roberts’ change of venue motion until the jury selection process can commence. 

The judge noted “the totality of the circumstances” from evidence shown at the immunity hearing and the defendant’s multiple statements given immediately after his arrest.

“The court does not find that the defendant met this burden,” Emerson stated in the motion. 

In their May motion for change of venue, Roberts’ defense lawyers argued that their client’s trial should be moved because a multimedia campaign by the decedent’s family and multiple articles from DCN would taint a jury pool.

“The court is not convinced at this time that the defendant has met his burden of proof on this issue,” Emerson wrote in another Nov.1 order. “The court therefore defers [a] final ruling on the change of venue motion until such time as the court can begin voir dire of the jurors summoned for the trial of the case.”


The judge’s orders follow a litany of developments in the high-profile case. 

Previously, documents for the oldest case alleged that after getting in a verbal disagreement with one victim, Roberts hit them while leaving the parking lot of Thompson Creek Park on Oct. 23, 2019. 

After being arrested the same night as those alleged offenses, Roberts was charged on Oct. 24 with two counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime and carrying a concealed weapon.

On Oct. 25, 2019, Roberts was released on a $20,200 bond. 

He was indicted in June 2021 on the charges from the 2019 case. As part of his bond conditions, he was not supposed to violate any laws while those charges were pending. 

About a week before the fight at Applebee’s, Duckworth and Roberts had a confrontation during a truck meet at the Ingles in Cumming, according to testimony from a former DCSO and current DA office investigator and that investigator’s video interview with Roberts, which was played at the court hearing. 

Tensions flared further when a friend of Roberts, Tyler Dybendal, supposedly posted a Snap on Snapchat about Duckworth’s truck being “white trash,” to which Duckworth is said to have replied with a picture stating “go back to Ohio lol,” according to the investigator’s testimony. 

That Snap is the focus of another warrant which Roberts’ defense wants suppressed. 

It supposedly spurred Dybendal and Roberts going to the Applebee’s parking lot on July 25 so Dybendal could fight Duckworth. 

During his interview with the investigator, Roberts also revealed that Dybendal had been butting heads with Duckworth over the latter’s ex-girlfriend, who was then with Dybendal. After arriving at the Applebee’s, Dybendal and Duckworth allegedly fought but were broken up.

Roberts initially said that Duckworth walked up to him and asked what he was going to do before supposedly grabbing at his collarbone area, causing Roberts to react by punching Duckworth. Later in his July 26 interview, Roberts admitted that he might’ve instead punched Duckworth for “getting up in [his] face and running his mouth,” with the investigator later insisting that “someone being up in your face and grabbing are different.”

Roberts said in the taped interview that he and Dybendal went to the latter’s house initially because he knew “the cops would be coming” to his house. 

While Dybendal has been named as allegedly being tied to events preceding Duckworth and Roberts’ Applebee’s fight, he has not been charged in this case. Dybendal does have a separate case pending in Dawson County. 

Roberts has been indicted on two counts of felony murder and one count each of aggravated assault and aggravated battery for that case. 

The indictment for Roberts’ case alleges that he punched the younger Dawsonville teen with a closed fist, causing serious brain damage. After the fight, Duckworth was taken to a hospital with severe brain trauma and died on July 27.

The prosecution charged Roberts with two felony murder counts in relation to the alleged aggravated assault and aggravated battery accusatons also connected to Duckworth’s death, according to the indictment. 

Bond motions

Following Roberts’ 2021 arrest, bond for the 2019 case was subsequently revoked on Aug. 31, 2021. Court documents from that time cited that he violated conditions of the 2019 bond by allegedly committing new offenses. Bond was likewise initially denied in the 2021 case, and he was indicted on those later charges in October. 

In December, the court reinstated his bond in the earlier case and set a $100,000 bond for the newer case. The condition to violate no laws was a bond provision in both cases. 

That bond was paid, and Roberts was released from DCSO custody. 

Assistant District Attorney Pete Lamb explained during a recounting of Roberts’ alleged acts that there were other occasions for which he has not been charged since 2019. That includes a trespass warning issued to Roberts for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend, the prosecutor said.

Then this year, before the May alleged offenses, Roberts supposedly followed Duckworth’s parents, Amanda and Tommy, down Lumpkin Campground Road, banging on the side of the truck he was driving and yelling at them, Lamb said. The prosecutor later clarified that he’d just learned about that alleged offense on Thursday. 

Roberts also allegedly ran another friend of Duckworth’s off of Ga. 400 in April and tailgated another mutual friend of that person and Duckworth later that month, Lamb added. Then, on May 1, Roberts allegedly harassed a friend of Duckworth’s again and forced that person off of the road as well, the prosecutor said.  

Later in May, Roberts was booked on the felony charges related to the May 13 and May 19 incidents. 

Roberts allegedly threatened a teenage victim on May 13 near Dawson Village Way North and Ga. 53, according to a Dawson County Sheriff’s Office warrant. He is accused of telling the victim to come to his residence, where he, Roberts, would “give him the same thing he gave his buddy,” referring to Kaleb Duckworth. 

Roberts allegedly committed the aggravated assault against the same victim on May 19 along Dawson Forest Road, according to another DCSO warrant. 

He was purportedly driving his pick-up truck when he entered the victim’s lane of travel and caused that person to swerve in order to avoid a collision. It appeared difficult to tell in the video evidence shown Friday whether or not Roberts swerved toward the victim enough to constitute aggravated assault. 

In June, Roberts was indicted on one charge each of aggravated assault and terroristic threats. 

Since being arrested on May 20, Roberts has remained in custody at the Dawson County Detention Center. 

In July, Emerson wrote to revoke and decline to reinstate Daniel Lee Roberts’ bonds in his 2021 and 2019 cases respectively. The judge also denied bond for the 2022 case involving the latest allegations against Roberts.  

A trial date has not yet been set for Roberts’ 2021 case. DCN will provide updates when more information is available.